Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Is Jesus Black?"

One thing I can count on in life is being challenged by Bridger's questions.  Unlike most children, he never outgrew the constant questioning phase.  It is who he is.  He has a curiosity and an urgency to know things.

Yesterday on the way home from school, he was asking me about Israel.  Now, I know he knows I am about the most geographically illiterate person around, so basically, he was just thinking out loud. I asked if he were learning about Israel in seminary class.  No, he was just thinking about Jesus, and wanted to know if he's actually white, like he's depicted in all of the stereotypical art work. Bridger suspects he was black.  

"Isn't Israel in Africa?" he wanted to know.  Uh-oh.  I had to do some quick thinking. I decided to start with what I know, and work toward the answer.  Deductive reasoning, I think they call it.

"Well, in the scriptures it says, 'Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's,' so I'm thinking since Caesar was the emperor of Rome, the Bible lands must be in the vicinity of Italy, so Israel must be in Europe." (Yes, I have a brilliant mind, and tend to go off on tangents to make my point, but it's the only way I can keep up my end of the conversation with my deep thinker.)

Bridger did not think I was correct in picturing everyone in the Bible as an ancient Italian. He continued to challenge me with geographical questions.  He believed Jesus lived in Africa, and so probably had dark-skin. I like watching his brain in action. 

When we got home, we pulled up Google maps on my laptop.  When I plugged in Bethlehem (I figure we better start where Jesus was born), I recognized immediately the map was of the United States. I'm no geography wizard, but I can recognize a map of my homeland. 

"Well, Bridger, apparently, he was born in America, so he must have had a Native American look." He shook his head in mock disgust.

"Here, let me have that," he said, as he took the laptop away from me.  He found the area in which Jesus lived, and we discovered it was not in Europe, as I suspected, but was, indeed in Africa.  The most northern end of Africa.

"Well, that doesn't tell us anything.  There are many, many white people in South Africa," I reminded him. (Thinking back, that may have more to do with some British colonization, but I digress...) Digressing is my specialty.

He made that face he makes at me when he thinks I'm being ridiculous. "We're not talking about South Africa, Mom. This is extreme North Africa."

"Look, Bridger; Jesus was a Jew.  He must have some physical similarities in common with modern day Jews.  He probably looks like Jerry Seinfeld."  Again, with that scowling face.

"Mom, how can he look like a religion?  Anybody can be Jewish. That's like saying Christians look like some white guy. Christians can be ANY color, ANY race."  

"Before modern days, the Jews were not just a religion to which anyone could convert, they were a culture, a race," I reminded him. "They shared physical traits and characteristics.  Jesus MUST have looked like them."

He raises some good questions. Does it matter what color Jesus was?  Not really. And it doesn't matter to him, either. He is simply curious, and wonders if what he has accepted all of his life is actually true. I like that about him.

I'm glad he thinks Jesus may have been black.  I'm always proud of my children when they think outside of the box, and question the status quo.  As we read a variety of sources, NOT just Wikipedia, we discovered this topic is in hot debate all over the world.  There don't seem to be any easy answers.  

The picture on my bedroom wall when I was a little girl showed a brown-haired, brown-eyed, fair-skinned Jesus.  I just accepted that. But not my boy. Of course, he has so much more awareness of the world than I did. I just knew where Jesus lived was far, far away.  Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Israel were on the site-specific maps at the back of my Bible. I hadn't really considered the big picture of where that would place Jesus in the world.

We didn't walk away with any solid answers last night.  If leading anthropologists and religious leaders can't come to a consensus, I guess it's okay for a mother and a son to agree to disagree. Bridger believes Jesus was much darker than he had accepted as a child. And I still think Jesus probably looked more like Jerry Seinfeld than Morgan Freeman, but hopefully not like the guy who played George Castanza.  


  1. That is the same Jesus picture that hung in my room growing an oval frame. Great post!

    1. Beth, it is nearly identical to the one on my bedroom wall, too.

  2. I am cracking up reading this! I love it! It must be a hoot at your house. You could certainly do stand-up…Ahh…there's that Jerry Seinfeld thing again! May I share this?

    1. Share away! Share away! ;-) Thanks, Rebecca. My kids keep me laughing!


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