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Was Jesus a Man of Color? Why This Question Matters Today Easter is Celebrated


Christena Cleveland, who spent much of her childhood in an evangelical church, was surrounded by traditional images of a porcelain-skinned and flaxen-haired Jesus. However, one day, she encountered a portrayal of Christ that left her breathless.

The painting depicted a resurrected Jesus, surrounded by awe-struck disciples, including “Doubting Thomas” touching the wound in Christ’s torso. The artwork resembled an ancient relic discovered in a long-forgotten desert monastery in the Holy Land. Its Byzantine-styled fresco featured sharply contoured figures, bursting with colors of deep blue and blood orange.

Yet, it was another color in the picture that seized her attention. Jesus was portrayed as a man of color—somewhere between brown and Black—and so were his disciples. For Cleveland, who would later become a theologian and social psychologist, this revelation shattered her previous image of a Nordic-looking Jesus resembling Thor. Now, she realized that he looked more like her—a Black woman.

Changing the color of Jesus transformed how Cleveland perceived the meaning of Easter.

“When I see the Easter story, I envision Jesus as a victim of state-sanctioned violence. He is surrounded by Black and brown people who yearn to make a difference but lack the power in that moment,” says Cleveland, the author of “God Is a Black Woman.”

“And I witness people victimized by a system that fails to recognize their full humanity and instead assumes the worst of them. Yet, there remains hope,” she adds. “The universe inexorably bends toward justice, even if the arc is long.”

As Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus today, Cleveland’s story points to an uncomfortable truth: The true face of the historical Jesus bears little resemblance to the figure often depicted in church stained-glass windows, Hollywood movies, or the mental images carried by many. Many scholars and archaeologists now agree that Jesus was most likely a brown-skinned, brown-eyed man—more akin to a “Middle Eastern Jewish” or Arab man. In a contemporary context, someone once quipped that if Jesus were flying today, he might be profiled for additional security screening by the TSA.

The debate over the color of Jesus has persisted for centuries. Raised in a Black church with a giant portrait of a White Jesus hanging behind the pulpit, I recall heated arguments in barbershops and cookouts. Armchair theologians insisted that Jesus was Black, citing scriptures like Revelation 1:14-15 (“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace”). Who can forget when former Fox News host Megyn Kelly declared in 2013 that Jesus, like Santa Claus, “was a White man, too,” and “that’s a verifiable fact”—a remark she later claimed was meant in jest.

Black theologians, such as the Rev. Albert Cleage, have depicted Jesus as a man of color and a revolutionary. This ongoing debate matters more than ever, challenging our assumptions and inviting us to explore the complex layers of history, faith, and identity.

Source: Was Jesus a man of color? Why this question matters more than ever by John Blake, CNN

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