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December 13th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Call Jesus (or Santa) white? Expect a big fight

Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN

(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."

Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."

The Fox News host would have none of it.

"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Arguing about St. Nick, who was originally Greek before Currier & Ives got their hands on him, is one thing. But as for Jesus, people have been arguing about his skin color since the earliest days of American history. You might even call it an American tradition.

What's new about this latest brouhaha is how swiftly Kelly’s remarks were attacked. Thousands of people have rebuked her through blogs, articles, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

Comedian Jon Stewart accused Kelly of "going full Christmas nog."

“And who are you actually talking to?" Stewart said on "The Daily Show." "Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o’clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real — yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white?”

It seems that now, if you want to call Christ — or even Santa — white, you should expect a fierce fight.

The immediate and widespread rebuttal showcases how much America has changed over the past few decades. The nation not only has a black president, but also has refused to endorse the Christian savior as white.

Since the earliest days of America, Jesus was thought of as a white man.

When white Protestant missionaries brought Bibles and whitened images of Jesus to Native Americans, at least a few mocked what they saw.

Taking the imagery seriously, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh asked future President William Henry Harrison, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you kill’d and nail’d him on a cross.”

It was not until around 1900 that a group of white Americans explicitly claimed Jesus was white.

Concerned that large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jewish immigrants, were “polluting” the nation, anti-immigrant spokesmen like attorney Madison Grant asserted the whiteness of Jesus to justify calls for exclusionary legislation.

READ MORE: From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism.

“In depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Savior,” Grant wrote in his xenophobic best-seller "The Passing of the Great Race."

“This is something more than a convention,” Grant continued, and suggested that Jesus had “Nordic, possibly Greek, physical and moral attributes.”

Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man.

King responded that the color of Christ’s skin didn’t matter. Jesus would have been just as important “if His skin had been black.” He “is no less significant because His skin was white.”

READ MORE: Turkish town cashes in on Saint Nick legacy

Challenges to Christ’s whiteness have a long history, too.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham preached in the 1950s, and then wrote emphatically in his autobiography "Just As I Am," that, “Jesus was not a white man.”

But Graham was far from the first American to contradict the whiteness of Jesus. That honor goes to Methodist and Pequot Indian William Apess.

In 1833, he wrote to white Christians, “You know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services but to a colored one.”

Almost 100 years later, the Jamaican born, “back-to-Africa” spokesman Marcus Garvey told his followers, “Never admit that Jesus Christ was a white man, otherwise he could not be the Son of God and God to redeem all mankind. Jesus Christ had the blood of all races in his veins.”

In our age, the color of Christ has become both politically dangerous and the butt of jokes.

In 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s words “God damn America” and “Jesus was a poor black boy” almost derailed then-Sen. Barack Obama from winning the Democratic primary.

Now, Kelly bears the brunt of attacks and, in no surprise, was pilloried by comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Few Americans went on public record against King when he asserted Jesus had white skin in the 1950s. Today, thousands upon thousands from virtually every race and tribe of Americans have taken Kelly’s words seriously and seriously disdained them.

All the chatter about Jesus being white (or not) shows how much America has changed. There used to be “whites’ only” restaurants and schoolrooms. Now, even Jesus cannot be called white without repercussions.

What the debate hides, however, is what Jesus of the Bible actually did and how he related to people.

The gospels are full of discussions about Jesus and bodies. He healed the blind and those who suffered from disease. He touched and was touched by the sick. His body was pierced by thorns, a spear and nails. And he died.

READ MORE: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

The phenotype of Jesus was never an issue in the Bible. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor John mentioned Christ’s skin tone or hair color. None called him white or black or red or brown.

Obsessions about race are obsessions of our age, not the biblical one. When asked what mattered most, Jesus did not say his skin tone or body shape. He instructed his followers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Maybe this Christmas season, we can reflect not so much on whether or not Jesus was white and instead consider what it meant for him to be called the “light” of the world.

Edward J. Blum is the co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He can be followed on Twitter @edwardjblum. The views expressed in this column belong to Blum alone.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Black issues • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • God • Jesus • News media • Opinion • Persecution • Prejudice • Race • United States

soundoff (7,485 Responses)
  1. dreamhunk

    BIBLICAL ISRAELITES WERE BLACK, And Still Are Today!
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHcKzzgYnMs&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • truth

      very true. the media and the government knows we are Israel. those people in israel today are Edomites descendants of Esau.

      December 18, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  2. Alias

    It is clear from the comments here that most white christians in America think it is better to be white.
    Irony.
    Hypocracy.
    Comedy!

    December 14, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  3. Reality

    Christmas is historically a non-event. Ditto for the Feast of the Magi, Holy Innocents Day and the solemnity of Mary aka New Years day. Details available upon request. So why all the fuss?

    December 14, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  4. dreamhunk

    Christians pay close attention !!!!! Joseph was A Black Man! So who are the people in Israel today?
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsHlQnG6zHY&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  5. Al
    December 14, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  6. Evelyn Connaway

    Many mixed races come in varying colors of skin, one races skin color and features sometimes more prominent than the other, and over time, we find different races and nationalities with different colors of skin, eyes and hair, sometimes according to what part of the world they are born in. You have brunettes, blonds, and redheads, with brown, blue and green eyes in nearly all nations. And then at times we have Albinos with no distinct skin coloring other than white with light blue eyes. This things are constantly changing things, so it's only what is under the skin that is important in the long run.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Alias

      So a green eyeed chinaman and a blond eskimo walk into a bar ......
      No. I don't think so.

      December 14, 2013 at 10:59 am |
      • Al

        There are Chinese with green eyes, probably passed down from the Romans. The Copper Inuit of Victoria Island are blond, possibly from some Nordic rascal.

        Humans are very mobile, and are not adverse to interbreeding with different populations. That is a good thing on a couple levels. Politically it helps forge alliances, genetically it broadens the gene pool.

        There are blue eyed Kurds. Check out the regional differences of the people of India. There are stark differences between the north and the south. The same holds true for the people of the African continent. Look at the difference between The Hamasien in Eritrea, and the Hausa of Nigeria. Look at the Libyans and compare them to the Xhosa (Xosa).

        December 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Al

      If your people lived in a tropical location they adapted to the climate. Race is only regional adaptations.

      December 14, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  7. dreamhunk

    Who Are The Real Hebrews
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksoDtyXENfM&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  8. dreamhunk

    Remember The Time We Walked Like An Egyptian
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trPbqYBFvWk&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  9. Jonathan

    Regarding the gospels, we know that Jesus and his followers were Aramaic-speaking peasants. The gospels were written decades later by educated Greek-speaking individuals who never met Jesus. There were no photographs of him. They were simply recording stories passed down to them. Jesus could have been any color and it just didn't get passed on to the gospel writers but it's especially likely that it would not be mentioned if his appearance was unremarkable to the people who knew him.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Alias

      jesus was not a peasant.
      his father had a trade, his mother had animals to ride, and he was a rabi.
      most of his folllwers were peasants.

      December 14, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  10. Chip

    Who cares what "color" fictional characters are?!?

    December 14, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Reality

      Au Contraire!!!

      Only for the new members of this blog:

      From Professors Crossan and Watts' book, Who is Jesus.

      "That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.

      “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus' followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened.

      “While the brute fact that of Jesus' death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. "

      “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.

      I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those "last week" details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered."

      See also Professor Crossan's reviews of the existence of Jesus in his other books especially, The Historical Jesus and also Excavating Jesus (with Professor Jonathan Reed doing the archeology discussion) .

      Other NT exegetes to include members of the Jesus Seminar have published similar books with appropriate supporting references.

      Part of Crossan's The Historical Jesus has been published online at books.google.com/books.

      There is also a search engine for this book on the right hand side of the opening page. e.g. Search Josephus

      See also Wikipedia's review on the historical Jesus to include the Tacitus' reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.

      From ask.com,

      "One of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, Cornelius Tacitus is a primary source for much of what is known about life the first and second centuries after the life of Jesus. His most famous works, Histories and Annals, exist in fragmentary form, though many of his earlier writings were lost to time. Tacitus is known for being generally reliable (if somewhat biased toward what he saw as Roman immorality) and for having a uniquely direct (if not blunt) writing style.

      Then there are these scriptural references:

      Crucifixion of Jesus:(1) 1 Cor 15:3b; (2a) Gos. Pet. 4:10-5:16,18-20; 6:22; (2b) Mark 15:22-38 = Matt 27:33-51a = Luke 23:32-46; (2c) John 19:17b-25a,28-36; (3) Barn. 7:3-5; (4a) 1 Clem. 16:3-4 (=Isaiah 53:1-12); (4b) 1 Clem. 16.15-16 (=Psalm 22:6-8); (5a) Ign. Mag. 11; (5b) Ign. Trall. 9:1b; (5c) Ign. Smyrn. 1.2.- (read them all at wiki.faithfutures. Crucifixion org/index.php/005_Crucifixion_Of_Jesus )

      Added suggested readings:

      o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.

      2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
      – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

      30-60 CE Passion Narrative
      40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
      50-60 1 Thessalonians
      50-60 Philippians
      50-60 Galatians
      50-60 1 Corinthians
      50-60 2 Corinthians
      50-60 Romans
      50-60 Philemon
      50-80 Colossians
      50-90 Signs Gospel
      50-95 Book of Hebrews
      50-120 Didache
      50-140 Gospel of Thomas
      50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
      50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
      65-80 Gospel of Mark
      70-100 Epistle of James
      70-120 Egerton Gospel
      70-160 Gospel of Peter
      70-160 Secret Mark
      70-200 Fayyum Fragment
      70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
      73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
      80-100 2 Thessalonians
      80-100 Ephesians
      80-100 Gospel of Matthew
      80-110 1 Peter
      80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
      80-130 Gospel of Luke
      80-130 Acts of the Apostles
      80-140 1 Clement
      80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
      80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
      80-250 Christian Sibyllines
      90-95 Apocalypse of John
      90-120 Gospel of John
      90-120 1 John
      90-120 2 John
      90-120 3 John
      90-120 Epistle of Jude
      93 Flavius Josephus
      100-150 1 Timothy
      100-150 2 Timothy
      100-150 T-itus
      100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
      100-150 Secret Book of James
      100-150 Preaching of Peter
      100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
      100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
      100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
      100-160 2 Peter

       4. Jesus Database, http://www.faithfutures.o-rg/JDB/intro.html –"The JESUS DATABASE is an online a-nnotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."
      5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bis-sar24.htm
      6. The Jesus Seminar, http://en.wikipedia.o-rg/wiki/Jesus_Seminar
      7. http://www.biblicalartifacts.com/items/785509/item785509biblicalartifacts.html – books on the health and illness during the time of the NT
      8. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.
      9.The Gn-ostic Jesus
      (Part One in a Two-Part Series on A-ncient and Modern G-nosticism)
      by Douglas Gro-othuis: http://www.equip.o-rg/articles/g-nosticism-and-the-g-nostic-jesus/
      10. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
      Presented on March 18, 1994
      ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTM#2
      11. The Jesus Database- newer site:
      wiki.faithfutures.o-rg/index.php?t-itle=Jesus_Database
      12. Jesus Database with the example of S-u-pper and Eucharist:
      faithfutures.o-rg/JDB/jdb016.html
      13. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
      mtio.com/articles/bis-sar24.htm
      13. http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/jesus.htmm- Historical Jesus Studies
      14. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/
      15. D-iseases in the Bible:
      http://books.google.com/books/about/The_d-iseases_of_the_Bible.html?id=C1YZAAAAYAAJ

      16. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
      theologians, ethics, etc.
      religion-online.o-rg/

       17. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
      18. Writing the New Testament- e-xisting copies, o-ral tradition etc.
      ntgateway.com/
      19. JD Crossan's c-onclusions about the a-uthencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the c-onclusions of other NT e-xege-tes in the last 200 years:
      http://wiki.faithfutures.o-rg/index.p-hp?t-itle=Crossan_Inventory
      20. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
      21. Luke and Josephus- was there a c-onnection?
      in-fidels.o-rg/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html
      22. NT and beyond time line:
      pbs.o-rg/empires/pe-terandpaul/history/timeline/
      23. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
      harvardhouse.com/prophetictech/new/pauls_life.htm
      24. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
      25. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
      27. The books of the following : Professors Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
      28. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
      29. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

      December 14, 2013 at 10:55 am |
      • Alias

        lots of people named jesus have lived.
        None of them were born from virgins or were gods.

        December 14, 2013 at 11:02 am |
      • ROO

        @ Reality

        uh....both Josephus and Tacitus were not contemporary to the claimed events! They wouldn't know any better. They were not eyewitnesses. They were born long after the alleged lifetime of jesus, and by the time they mention him in their works...some of the gospels had already been in circulation. That's not evidence for the historicity of jesus. It's evidence they were aware of the circulating stories mentioning the character jesus. They also both mention Hercules in the same work, so...put that into context. Their hearsay is pointless and useless regarding historical verifiability for jesus.

        December 14, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  11. dreamhunk

    who created Jesus Christ

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5JnnWvgRjg&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  12. Rainer Braendlein

    Wouldn't it be nice if we really could encounter Jesus or Santa? Concerning Jesus it was possible for several periods of time: When he lived on earth as carpenter and pastor, and when his mystical body, the Church, has still existed. Yet, it seems like Jesus has gone beyond, the Christian Church has also gone. That is the apocalypse – mankind has lost her right to exist. Don't let us waste time discussing about Jesus' color but restore a lively Church which preaches the releasing Gospel of Jesus Christ – it is high time.

    The incarnated God Jesus spent a period of time of about 30 years on earth. At the one side he was the ordinary carpenter Jesus, Joseph's son, from Nazareth living in Capernaum at Lake Tiberias, on the other side supernatural power came from him, he was sacral. When Jesus spoke with somebody that was more than human talk. When Jesus spoke with somebody, at the same time Christ or God spoke with the certain person. People which encountered Jesus in fact encountered God or the whole Godhead. That was the special thing and mystery of Jesus. Meeting Jesus meant to get into God's presence.

    However, today Jesus is beyond, and no longer in our world.

    How can we get into God's presence today?

    Is there a temple? The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed 70 after Christ, therefore this possibility is cancelled. Is there another temple? Yes, thank God, there is the Christian Church. The Christian Church is the place of God's presence today. Through sacral acts of the whole Church we get into God's presence, and that conforms an encounter with the earthly Jesus former times.

    The Church, of course, consists of people of all nations, colours, status, ranks, etc.

    Conclusion: It plays no role if Jesus was red, black, white or yellow. The historical Jesus who certainly had a certain color is represented today through a multi-tude of people of different colour.

    Don't discuss about the colour of the historical Jesus but join his Church where you can still meet him today. The Church, Christ's mystical body.

    What is the Christian Church?

    The real Church preaches discipleship of Jesus on the basis of the releasing power of his sacrifice. This power is dedicated to us through sacramental baptism. Discipleship is kept through Lord's Supper and private confession of sins. I admit that it is hard or nearly impossible to find such a church today. Let us pray.

    If Jesus would return today, would he find the faith on earth? Hardly, or does anybody know better?

    December 14, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Name*Danny

      Your propaganda on Jesus is wrong....stop leading the blind when you yourself or blind. Yet have a humble heart to allow elohim God to give you wisdom and forgiveness along with his grace. Eph 1:7 as a biblical fact Jesus was on earth 33 years he began his ministry at 30 years. He was baptized at the age of 30. This all is seen through the parable of the fig tree. No matter what theological school you go to the only way to learn God is by God Rev 5.

      December 14, 2013 at 10:56 am |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        Everybody needs the pastoral care of the Church. It is not enough to pray to the invisible Jesus.

        It is just God's order that He approaches us through his Church or her members. It is a real difference, if I confess sins to a Christian brother or to the invisible Jesus. It is better to confess in sight of pastor or Christian layman.

        A pastor or even a Christian layman can forgive sins in the name of the triune God according to Jesus' insti-tution.

        Why did Jesus always touch people when he cured them? That is the sacral character of his being. Equally we will receive more power, deliverance, etc. when we accept the pastoral care of a Christian layman or pastor. Christianity is sacral – we just have to accept that.

        December 14, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • Reality

      And Martin Luther's thinking continues !! Time we give up childish things!!!

      December 14, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  13. Great Lakes

    Seems rather pointless to argue their skin color since neither Santa nor Jesus actually exist.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Catherine howard

      And none of us were there....

      December 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  14. dreamhunk

    Hollywoods little joke
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5HLmzAIeiQ&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  15. dreamhunk

    Are "Dreadlocks" Unlawful?...Did Isarelites Wear Them?
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bbkm9FD792I&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  16. dreamhunk

    Ancient Hebrew dread locks
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTWhHbuxF58&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  17. WMesser58

    The real question isn't what color he was, it is did he even exist. The answer is "NO" and even by some remote chance he did is it really important what color he is or what deeds he preformed. Holy Rollers are the most intolerant judgmental people I know. To argue this pointless dribble only demonstrates how moronic you really are.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  18. dreamhunk

    Was King Solomon BLACK? Song of Solomon 1:1
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7ohFCNoupM&w=640&h=390]

    December 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  19. ted

    Everybody knows that your average Nazarene has blue eyes, blonde hair and pale scandanavian skin. If he wasn't white then he most obviously was black. Why would someone as educated and smart as megyn kelly not assume a jew from the middle east just might look like a jew from the middle east. The bottom line is megyn kelly puts her foot in her mouth once a week, she wants to be taken seriously and then she pops up in some glamour wannabe modeling shot trying to hide the fact she is very plain and average looking. She is an idiot plain and simple.

    December 14, 2013 at 10:25 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.