Jesus Is White, Right?

Our version of the Children’s Picture Bible lies. Well, it has no words. But I’m pretty sure it lies anyway. I’m always having to apologize for our picture Bible, because most of the people in it resemble caucasians. There are very few people of color represented in the cartoon drawings. In one instance, a rainbow of skin colors make an appearance–in the story of Jesus calling the children to himself. Weird, because Jesus is represented as a white guy. Sorry, kids. Your Bible is probably lying.

The historical Jesus was a middle-eastern person. A Jew. For hundreds of years, his ethnicity has been artistically rendered into a European soup of whiteness. Not only is this most likely a false representation of Jesus of Nazereth, but it represents a not-so-subtle message that Jesus = Western Civilization.

But it didn’t always mean that.

My husband Andy and I had the privilege of visiting Istanbul, Turkey this year. This ancient city houses some of the most important pieces of Christian and Muslim history and ancient architecture. We toured the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Irene, Topkapi Palace and Chora Church. These places of worship and royalty almost reverberate with ancient ghosts. At times we could barely speak.

We visited the Chora Church, which was converted to a mosque in the 16th century. At that time, the spectacular mosaics that lined the walls and ceilings were covered and the sculptures destroyed. Centuries later, after WWII,  the mosaics were restored and the building was opened as a secular museum.

The caucasian mosaics at Chora Church represent the people who crafted them. When they thought about the people in the Bible, they saw themselves. The mosaics they created were unparalleled in all of Christendom and the artwork began to be imitated far and wide. What began as a project of love and a desire to teach the stories of Scripture to the masses became a master version from which hundreds of churches copied and were inspired.

Basically, they started a trend. But they didn’t mean to.

What would happen if we all drew pictures of the Bible that looked like ourselves, our families, our experience? We would have a piles and piles of different Jesuses, with thousands of different skin tones, noses, eyes, and hair styles. Every Children’s Picture Bible would be different. And they would all be authentic, personal experiences of Scripture.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Children’s Picture Bible doesn’t lie after all. It’s incomplete. It’s missing my Jesus. My kids’ Jesuses. Your Jesus. When all the puzzle pieces of the mosaic fit together, we find him.

5 comments

  1. Good thoughts! I would imagine some reason or possible basis for the fact that no symbols or pics appeared in the scriptures that Jesus first read, other than the idea that the Jews were set down on earth without an artist among them.

  2. Beautiful.

    “What would happen if we all drew pictures of the Bible that looked like ourselves, our families, our experience?”

    However, how do we NOT do this, at least implicitly and unconsciously?

    C.S. Lewis once said, “On the sixth day God created humans in God’s image, and we have returned the favor everyday since.”

  3. Actually, I think the authors of the Picture Bible probably aimed the illustrations at the children they know. I run a large Religious Education program and try to use a variety of pictures of Jesus. Somehow a Middle Eastern Jesus seems “normal”, and even the black Jesus seems pretty reasonable, but I am always somewhat startled by the Asian Jesus – though, I’m startled by the blondish one, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *