Dreaming of a White Jesus

Dreaming of a White Jesus December 12, 2013

The recent statement by a Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly illustrates well why historical Jesus research is so important. Jesus has become a powerful myth, indeed more than one, and has been coopted in the service of a great many ideologies. Nothing provides as effective a counter to the infinite range of things that Jesus has become and may yet become, than historical evidence does.

Ironically, Kelly was emphasizing that Santa Claus was white, just like Jesus (and equally historical, it sounds like). Santa Claus the myth can become any color, just as Jesus the myth can. But the historical St. Nicholas, from the region of modern-day Turkey, was probably at most only a shade closer to Kelly's definition of whiteness than Jesus was.

Of course, historical evidence is only effective as an antidote to ideological distortion of evidence, if people are willing to listen. And so willful ignorance can provide an antidote to the antidote.

Satirical responses to this have also been offered by Jeff Carter and Fred Clark, the latter having shared the image below:




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  • Ian

    I also liked Fred’s point that Jesus would have been exactly in the sweet spot for racial-profiling, the you’re-not-getting-on-this-flight race.

  • texcee

    Jesus looks strangely like Jeffrey Hunter in this painting.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, a lot of folks have lost their heads over this post, and the problem I think is making assumption about what Kelly defines as a white person. The US census defines white as persons of European, North African, or Middle Eastern decent. So on a US census form, Jesus would likely check white, as would St. Nicholas. defining white as strictly North European is more the domain of North European racist and those that subscribe to critical race theory, for which I have no reason to assume Kelly holds either view.

    • Ian

      I don’t think Kelly was being that sophisticated. I think by “white” she meant “not black”, given the context of the piece.

      The humour comes from being tone-deaf on issues of racism, and ignorant of the history of representations of Jesus, not on some specific legal interpretation of her words.

      • Michael Wilson

        I’m not sure saying Jesus isn’t black is especially controversial or funny. She could be tone deaf on issues of racism, since simple saying “Jesus wasn’t black” or “Jesus was Jewish” would carry the same point and not give the space for inserting ones own opinions of Kelly’s beliefs about race, like that she only thinks blond, blue eyed people are white, which would be funny if it were true.

        • Could we all agree that Jesus would have been considered non-white in Apartheid-era South Africa? The term “white” gets used in a variety of different ways.


          • Michael Wilson

            Definitely non-white by South African standards, and all the Nazi-based standards, since he was Jewish. I just object to the assumption that everyone thinks that people north and south of the Mediterranean or even the Alps are different races. It tends to confuse culture with appearance which tends to try and give culture a sort of genetic dimension so if you don’t behave as you appear, your defective.

  • guest

    See, I can’t help thinking that Jesus and Saint Nicholas were closer to white than they were to any other race. White doesn’t always mean blond hair and blue eyes. A lot of white people have brown eyes and dark hair and, with a tan, they could easily look middle-eastern. Are we really going to start saying that Turkish people aren’t white? What about greek people? They basically look the same.

    Besides, the mythology of Father Christmas is definately nordic. The elves come from norse mythology and the sleigh with reindeer was probably inspired by the sami people- you don’t find many reindeer in Turkey.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Jesus wasn’t Greek or Turkish. Have you seen people historically native to Judea in the Middle East? They do not look like any common perception of a white person, and nothing near the Jesus of the picture above.

  • newenglandsun

    They’re depicted out white for primarily cultural reasons. The Eastern icons of Mary are staunchly different than Western portraits of Mary. There is also Asian Jesus as well.

  • David Ashton

    Jesus looks too noble in north-western art, so who would not prefer him to look like Che Guevara or Leon Trotsky or Nelson Mandela or Mao Zedong and DESERVE the worship of the modern guilt-ridden “progressive”?