In the national outcry over racial justice, scholars, protesters and even the archbishop of Canterbury have questioned the portrayal of Jesus as white. No one knows exactly what the historical Jesus looked like, but coming from Galilee, a region in biblical Israel, he likely had a brown skin tone.

University of South Carolina art historian Anna Swartwood House traces centuries of early European artists who combined images of Jesus with their own likeness, to later representations of a light-skinned Christ spread around the world through trade and colonization.

This representation, House says, “reinforced a caste system” in which darker-skinned people were ranked lower and was used to “justify the oppression of Native and African Americans.”

Also today:

Kalpana Jain

Senior Religion + Ethics Editor

Painting depicting transfiguration of Jesus, a story in the New Testament when Jesus becomes radiant upon a mountain. Artist Raphael /Collections Hallwyl Museum

The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European

Anna Swartwood House, University of South Carolina

Recent protests on racial justice have also questioned the portrayal of Jesus as a white man. An art historian explains how this image appeared and came to be marketed worldwide.



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