The January issue of Leadership magazine carried several interesting articles on the theme of the Christian values of peace and reconciliation which I enjoyed reading and benefited enormously from, but I have a small bone of contention to pick with one of the three portraits published on the cover of the magazine.
Three persons are featured on the cover of the magazine, namely Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and a bigger picture of a bearded and handsome mzungu man who I guess is intended to be our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
I am not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but the depiction of Jesus Christ as a Whiteman with blonde hair and blue eyes is historically incorrect.
Variety of colours
The Holy Bible does not tell us the skin and hair colour of Jesus, but as anybody who has visited Israel will attest, Jews come in a wide variety of colours ranging from Black to Brown and White.
When I visited Israel in 1998, I interacted with many Jews including those originally from Ethiopia and North Africa who greeted me like a distant cousin visiting the holy land. When I spoke to some in my broken Amharic, there was spontaneous and mutual happiness which more or less confirmed the newly- found relationship.
Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the first century, wrote about Jesus in one of his books; he gives a graphic description of Jesus, a man whom many people of that time considered to be a great prophet and who was crucified with two other men around 33AD by the Roman governor of Palestine.
In his work, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, chapter 3, Josephus wrote this of Jesus; “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.”
According to Josephus, who was also an eyewitness, Jesus was dark-skinned, long faced and had scanty hair; he looked older than his youthful age of only 33.
If Jesus was dark-skinned it may perhaps explain why Joseph and Mary fled with him to Egypt when King Herod out of fear, anger and jealousy decided to kill all little boys soon after the three wise men from the East tricked him and failed to keep their promise to tell him the location in Bethlehem of the homestead of Mary and Joseph, the parents of the newly-born King Jesus.
According to the story recorded in Matthew chapter 2, Herod gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old or younger, hoping against hope that Jesus would be among the innocent children whose lives he would brutally cut short!
Matthew writes that Herod’s despicable act was to fulfil what prophet Jeremiah had predicted many centuries earlier; “A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping, Rachel is crying for her children and refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.” Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth soon after Herod died with disgrace and in shame.
Egypt of the first century was populated predominantly by black people like Ugandans and it would seem natural and sensible for Joseph and Mary to flee from a power-hungry tyrant like King Herod to a place where they would blend easily among folks who either resembled them or were distant kith and kin who possibly spoke a similar language or dialect.
Some of the hostility towards Jesus during his ministry could have arisen from the fact that he was dark-skinned, to borrow the description given by Josephus. For example, on the way to Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers grabbed a black man, Simon from Cyrene, which is modern Libya or Tunisia, and forced him to carry the cross. It is possible the Roman soldiers looked around and picked a man who looked like their prisoner!
Not that it matters, but for the record and especially for the sake of our youth, those who may wish to portray Jesus pictorially should not depict him as a blonde mzungu with blue eyes which historically was not the case.
I am sure the notion of a Black Jesus will not go well with some who dominate the world today, but at the same time I know it appeals to African-Americans and millions of oppressed people everywhere who empathise with the passion of Jesus Christ which Christians, including myself, will soon remember and celebrate during the Holy Week, especially on Good Friday!
May the Lord have mercy!
Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. firstname.lastname@example.org