General Question

Scarlett's avatar

Why is Jesus always painted as a light skin light brown haired guy ?

Asked by Scarlett (913points) November 23rd, 2010

Just wondering how come Jesus is always portrayed as having fair skin, with light brown hair if he lived in the middle east ? Shouldn’t he have middle eastern features ? Also Jesus is always pictures as having a really small American nose – if he was in the middle east wouldn’t he have a nose that is more prominent ?

Just asking…

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44 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

I believe that you’re talking about depictions mostly found in Western European art, and art from the Empire regions.

If that’s the case, well…Jesus can’t really look like the people the various European interests were trying to conquer – he’s the son of God, so he simply had to look like civilized people. ;-)

Scarlett's avatar

Hmm interesting… Is Middle Eastern art of Jesus depicted as having darker skin tones and a bigger nose ?

Jeruba's avatar

I have seen other depictions.

YARNLADY's avatar

I Googled Jesus > images and found paintings that portrayed him as looking like many different ethnicities. Maybe you haven’t been exposed to many different paintings.

mammal's avatar

@YARNLADY yep all pale skinned.

Scarlett's avatar

I google Jesus as well, and there is nothing but pale skinned and brown hair.

Scarlett's avatar

** googled.

I haven’t seen any other depictions of him.

YARNLADY's avatar

@mammal I guess we must be looking at different pictures. I don’t call this fair skinned.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

You can read about various versions of Jesus through the ages here and here

In general, Jesus looks like the ideal of whoever is worshiping him at the time.

TheHornAndBeek's avatar

“History is written by the victors” ~Winston Churchill (I Think)
Probably applies to paintings as well.

downtide's avatar

Just to play devil’s advocate here for a moment, here’s an answer I posted in another thread a while back:

There are, within the area of the Middle East, pockets of people whose ethnic appearance is more Caucasian, with brown hair and often very light eyes. The Kurds are a well-known example. So it’s entirely possible, if Jesus had some ancestry in one of those groups, that he could have been light-haired and blue-eyed as typically depicted in Christian art. This boy is a Kurd.

AdamF's avatar

If there was a single individual who was the primary inspiration for the origin of this religion, then I guess the best we have to go by, are general appearances of the people who lived in the region at the time.

laureth's avatar

Other insights on my semi-related question here. :)

Ron_C's avatar

Religion is man’s creation and men all have parochial interests. Although we may “tolerate” the “lessor” races, “our god” is superior to us all and must be, by definition, our own race. The Greek gods were all Greek in appearance, Christian gods were advanced in Europe, thus bear European features.

In the East gods have oriental features, In Africa they are black, they are also black in U.S. black churches. (Sunday mornings are the most segregated hours in America) And of course, the Jewish god is Jewish and so on down the line.

Since Jesus, if he ever existed, had no portrait done, is by necessity, the race of the believer.

Blondesjon's avatar

Cuz’ Jesus wuz American!

mistik04's avatar

Man created God and Jesus and every other ’‘holy’’ being in his own image.

Summum's avatar

Here is a big if for you. IF the shroud of Turin is indicative to how Christ looked then he had large bone features in his face. The pictures of him now are artists conceptions of him.

thekoukoureport's avatar

living as a peasant, in the desert without any sunblock, yet white and pure as the driven snow. You can thank the European dark ages for that little white lie. The winners always get to write the history.

phaedryx's avatar

I’ve wondered about 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.

nicobanks's avatar

GA @Ron_C

My own forgiving answer:

When people paint Jesus, they aren’t painting the historical Jesus, they’re painting the cosmic Jesus: their personal saviour. A cosmic figure is a spirit and doesn’t look like anyone or anything in particular, so people picture Jesus looking as they look: he’s their personal saviour, so, wouldn’t he naturally look like them?

My unforgiving answer:

It’s a consequence of white authority, privilege, racism, etc.

nicobanks's avatar

@downtide Hmm, interesting suggestion, but I don’t think there’s evidence to support that Jesus could have been a Kurd. Jesus was a Jew from the Egypt side of Israel – Iran, Turkey, even Iraq and Syria are rather far away from there. And I’d think that Jews and Kurds belong to distinct ethnic groups. Are there Jewish Kurds (aside from modern few converts: I mean, historical Jewish Kurds – a bloodline)? I suppose the absentee father may have been a Kurd passing through Nazareth (although there was not nearly as much moving around then as there is now), but it doesn’t seem plausible to me because Jesus was otherwise so entrenched in the Jewish community. Of course, it’s entirely possible! But, I think not plausible.

@phaedryx What are you wondering about it? My basic interpretation is that this is a verse from the Second Temple period of Judaism, or perhaps from before the second Temple was built, that emphasizes a modest vision of the Messiah in contrast to the usual pomp and circumstance vision that is attested to elsewhere in the scriptures (the soldier who will defeat our enemies, the King who will lead us to salvation, etc.). This modest, humble vision well suited those later Jews who wanted to say that Jesus was the Messiah because, whoever Jesus was, it appears he was clearly neither King nor soldier. However, humility and modesty are not useful virtues in a capitalist socio-economy that survives by conquering and taking advantage of the weak, so out vision of Jesus has transformed into the beautiful, powerful figure we so often see around us today.

mattbrowne's avatar

Because Christians enjoy the freedom to draw him.

Because Christians can draw him the way they want to.

Without violence erupting all over the world.

iamthemob's avatar

…and subtle comments suggesting that a religion is responsible for violence all over the world due to the nature of its teachings like this one above can’t possibly be responsible for the deeply held prejudices against Muslims. Not in any way.

That wouldn’t be very Christian at all.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, the violence is this case seems to be related to low self esteem. It’s actually impossible to insult people. Because people can decide whether they feel insulted or not.

crazyivan's avatar

As Voltaire said, God created man in his own image and man responded in kind.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@mattbrowne ‘It’s actually impossible to insult people’ – I beg to differ.

sakura's avatar

We have just had this discussion… I work in a primary shool and we have made a nativity display, when mixing the colours for Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, we made a light brown mix of paint and not ‘rosey pinked cheeked’ some people couldn’t understand where we were coming from and wondered why we had not painted the nativity scene in the traditional way, others agreed with us when we stated that The Holy family came from a country were the prodominatly people have a darker skin tone. Neeedless to say we stuck to our guns!!

Summum's avatar


Doesn’t make sense that you cannot insult people? So what you are saying that if a person chooses to feel insulted then they are not really insulted?

troubleinharlem's avatar

Revelation 1:14 – “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow…”

I saw a picture of Jesus once in a church where he had red hair and looked rather Irish. It was… interesting.

GracieT's avatar

I’ve actually wondered this myself for as long as I’ve known that the people who live in that area are not Caucasian. I think that it is because the (until recently) majority color- white was the most powerful group of people. They couldn’t imagine the Savior as any other color.

ETpro's avatar

@Scarlett Google for “Jesus as painted in Ethiopia” and take a look at what non-Europeans think the man had to look.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Summum – What I meant is that the power of an insult depends on the recipient. The intent of a sender might or might not be an insult. Examples:

Germans are idiots.
Christianity is the most evil of all religions.
Scientists are elitist eggheads.
They hate all religions, but condemn Islamophobia.
Deep down men are macho chauvinist pigs.
People over 40 are crazy premature geezers.

Anyone feel insulted? In fact, since this thread is about Jesus and how he is being depicted, I’d argue that it was impossible that anyone was able to insult him when he lived.

As for the range of depictions take a look at this:

nicobanks's avatar

@mattbrowne An insult isn’t wholly dependent on the effect it causes. E.g. If I insult someone too stupid to realise the insult – and, therefore, to feel insulted – that doesn’t mean I haven’t insulted them. I understand what you mean about “the power of an insult depends on the recipient” – this reminds me of the people I know who seem only too ready to take something the wrong way, never willing to shake it off… too much pride; and of how we can all be this way, from time to time. I think it’s an important principle – to remind ourselves that we are in control of ourselves, responsible for ourselves, able to frame and conceive of our own world – we are self-empowered. But the way you’re talking, you’re placing too much power in the hands of the recipient: you’re shedding responsibility from the person actually making the insult. You can’t go around acting however you want, never concerning yourself with how other people might feel, blaming others when they’re offended by your behaviour. I’m not saying you do that, but that’s what I see behind your “you can’t insult anyone” logic. There has to be a balance of self-empowerment and concern for the Other.

iamthemob's avatar

I agree with @nicobanks on this one, but there are other considerations in addition to that. We all were probably told at one point something along the lines we should respond to insults with the mantra “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” ...and although it’s ideal, it’s one of those BS things I think parents should stop telling their kids. An insult, especially on an internet forum, may be less personally damaging to the person it’s directed at…but it reaches an audience far greater than that person. In our private lives, we often feel insulted by people or insult others when there is an audience of some sort. Words themselves, therefore, can be damaging unless someone points out that they lack value. Otherwise, we blatantly or subtly make others think that it’s okay to hold such opinions. This is the basis of hate crime legislation in the U.S. – there is an expressive element to it that’s directed at an entire community, and therefore damaging if not recognized. It’s also why in Europe there are stricter hate speech laws – which I personally disagree with but understand the policy reasons for. Therefore, to say that whether or not something is insulting is dependent wholly on whether the target decides to react to it or just let it go is placing all of the responsibility on the target, when the majority should rest on the speaker and any third party who hears the insult.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@iamthemob I’m pretty sure most therapists count on the phrase “stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” as their bread and butter. Besides, if words couldn’t hurt, they also couldn’t uplift and heal, and then they wouldn’t be communication so much as odd noises humans make.

mattbrowne's avatar

Don’t get me wrong. I’m against using insults even if mature people are more immune against them. I just wanted to point out that as recipients we do have a choice. A quite powerful one.

I’m trying very hard not to insult anyone, but I also know that I can get carried away sometimes, for example when Christian fundamentalists establish cave schools teaching creationism. I’m aware that this can sound like an insult, while my intention is actually a wake-up call because something is seriously wrong. I really want kids to get the best education and equal opportunity. But a creationist might feel insulted. Sarah Palin might feel insulted when people write that she isn’t qualified to become US President. I would argue that this isn’t an insult, which points to another problem of communication. Sender and recipients have a different understanding of the message’s meaning.

The same might actually apply to how Jesus is depicted. The white Scandinavian skin of Jesus might offend an Arab Christian for example, who lives in the region where Jesus lived.

iamthemob's avatar

I don’t know why Sarah Palin should be insulted by the facts. ;-)

crazyivan's avatar

@iamthemob You’re talking about a person who thought “What kind of magazine’s do you read?” was a hardball, “gotcha” question… I think she’s offended by anything that draws attention to how stupid she is.

phaedryx's avatar


Wow, totally not where I was going. I just wonder if he was plain, and average-looking, maybe slightly on the ugly side.

nicobanks's avatar

@phaedryx Oh. Well… I think it’s highly unlikely that’s what that verse is about, but I guess that’s a beautiful thing about scripture – open to interpretation. But you do know that Isaiah was composed before the time of Jesus?

phaedryx's avatar

@nicobanks so, you don’t think that verse refers to his appearance? Yes I know that Isaiah was written before the time of Jesus… not sure what your point is.

nicobanks's avatar

@phaedryx My point about the timeline is that, unless you truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that Isaiah was prophesying, it doesn’t make sense to suggest that a verse in Isaiah could be a description of Jesus. Maybe you do believe those things – I just figured I’d point that out, in case you don’t. Otherwise, no, I don’t think the verse has to do with his physical appearance, exactly… I think it has to do with his personhood… more about how he presented himself and who he was than how he looked… his being was modest, not necessarily about his face being ugly. That’s how I see it, anyway.

Nullo's avatar

Just for kicks, think of it as Jesus transcending race. An accidental truth, perhaps: He is for everybody.

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