By Eric Vanden Eykel
When Eric Metaxas tweeted that “Jesus was white” on Monday the small corner of Twitter in which Metaxas is sometimes a conversation piece erupted quickly, and with wild speculation. Is he looking for attention? Being provocative? No one actually believes that Jesus is white, do they? Surely Metaxas is smart enough to know that this claim is easily refuted. But, it appears that he didn’t misspeak; he said what he meant to say.
There are a few serious issues with this tweet. The most obvious, of course, is that its central claim is patently false. Jesus wasn’t “white” in any sense of the word, and there’s no clearer way to state this. He was born and lived his entire life in the Middle East. What’s more, “white” as a category is a social construct, and a relatively recent one at that, so the claim is thoroughly anachronistic.
Of course, Metaxas isn’t the first to depict Jesus as something other than a Middle-Eastern man, and it’s a well-known fact that artists frequently take enormous liberties when they paint Jesus as a subject. Frank Wesley often depicted Jesus as having blue skin, for example, like the Hindu deities Shiva, Rama, and Krishna. Janet McKenzie’s “Jesus of the People” seems to depict Jesus as both genderfluid and mixed-race. Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ,” possibly one of the most recognizable images of Jesus in the world, depicts Jesus as unmistakably white. In short, Jesus is very much “a messiah in our image.”
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