For the past 2,000 years, Jesus has been worshipped as the Christ, the Saviour, and the Messiah. That cannot be disputed.

From his first utterances in the Temple at the age of thirteen, every word was passed on, recorded in some form or other. However, we have no idea what he looked like.

Without the help of social media and modern technology, his message spread to the furthest part of the world and thousands heard and responded to his message.

Missionaries devoted their lives to spreading his message, through fair means and foul, as history has revealed.

Many devotees have tried to show their adoration by representing Jesus in some art form.

Be it paintings or statues, religious artists have endeavored to express their love form him in their unique way. And that means that they depicted him in the only way they knew – their own image.

No Biblical Description Of Jesus

Thousands of years ago, artists had no choice because they had no references in the Bible to what Jesus looked like.

This had absolutely no relevance to the people who wrote about him. So, artists had to rely on the simple fact of demographics.

If Jesus was born where records state he was then he most certainly would not be classified as a “white” person.

Then why do all the artist impressions of Jesus depict him as a white man?

Early Depictions Of Jesus

There have not been any depictions of Jesus found before the second century – not even simple sketches by amateur artists.

Perhaps this can be accounted for by the fact that Christians were not held in high esteem in the Roman society of the time. Being a follower of Jesus was not for the fainthearted until about the fourth century.

Before that, Christianity was a secret society that used the “ichthyosis” symbol to show their allegiance to Jesus.

The “Jesus fish” symbol has become a commonplace sticker on many suburban car bumpers.

Early Christians had to created secret symbols and signs to help other Christians locate the places where they could worship together.

Maybe this explains that one of the first depictions of Jesus was by a Roman in a bit of satirical graffiti etched into some plaster.

Recognizable depictions of Jesus from about the third century show him as a Good Shepherd. This can be seen in the St Callisto catacomb in Rome.

He looks like a typical shepherd in the customary clothing with olive skin coloring. However, he appears to be cleanly shaven, like Romans of the time. This would not have been an accurate depiction of Judean men.

It was during the late third century when the fresco was discovered. It was found in a Roman tomb, which had possibly been converted as a place of worship, as well as burial when the family became Christians.

It could also have been used as a secret hiding place during the Great Persecution of Diocletian.

Jesus Depicted As Roman Or Greek

At the time that the fresco was created, Jesus was usually depicted as being of Roman or Greek descent, because that was all the artist knew. Before that, Jesus had only been represented by symbols or Hebrew words.

The purpose of the fresco was to remind the owners of their relationship to one another and the Christ. The accuracy of the depiction of Jesus was irrelevant to them.

Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the fourth century meant that Christians were able to worship Jesus openly.

This opened the floodgates to artists who could now produce depictions of Jesus in ways that would impress wealthy patrons.

Typically, he was pictured sitting on a throne with a halo and with his fingers extended in benediction.

Sometimes, he was seated between Peter and Paul.

The iconic image of Jesus in flowing robes with long curly hair, and a beard have persisted all the way into Hollywood movies in the twenty-first century!

What is particularly noticeable about his face is that it is white.

It seems that everyone wanted to get in on the fashion statement, so even churches all around the Roman Empire, including Spain.

All that changed in the Spanish depictions is that Jesus is cleanly shaven.

It seems unbelievable that Mediterranean people did not question the “whiteness of Jesus” as one would expect them to relate to an image that was more like their darker-skinned countrymen. 

The Modern White Jesus

It is assumed that artists were given this license because it suited the religious “face” of Christianity and because the depictions of Jesus with the halo, cross, apostles, and a white face appealed to the punters and artists were making money.

Christian leaders at that time were opposed to change and dogmatic in their beliefs.

The Crusades are an example of this, and artists feared for their lives if they did not toe the party line.

Church authorities were notoriously brutal and would not tolerate any perceived heresy.

So, artists continued with the inaccurate depiction of Jesus that was acceptable to the Church and their wealthy benefactors.

Their artwork was prolific and easy to sell if it fitted the required likeness of Jesus.

This can be seen in mosaics, drawings, and great paintings like Blessing Christ by Raphael.

The modern media of films has continued to portray Jesus as a white man. Actors such as Jeffrey Hunter and Ted Neely are examples of the modern white Jesus.

No-one seems to question the fact that an actor from the Middle East would look more authentic in the role.

Every culture across the globe has omitted to question the white Jesus that was shared with them by missionaries.

The false depiction of him continues to be revered by modern Christians just as much as those from centuries ago.

Does The Skin Color of Jesus Matter?

We can’t change history, but one wonders whether this will be the next new religious dilemma.

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