Black-Jesus from Nazareth?

"Is it Obama? No, it's Little Black-Jesus of Nazareth."

“Is it President Obama? No, its Little Black-Jesus of Nazareth.”

This is how he looked like, Jesus of Nazareth, according to the picture hanging in the church of the Ethiopian Christians in the eternal capital of the Holy Land: Jesus was black (finally this puzzle is solved). Right next to Black-Jesus there’s a picture of white-Jesus (perhaps we are more accustomed to seeing him pictured this way?), and as you can see from the pictures it is not only Jesus who has a different number of skin pigments, but also the angels and Maria has had a tan.

"Is it George Bush? No, it's Europeanized, Caucasian-Jesus of Nazareth"

“Is it President George Bush? No, it’s Europeanized, Caucasian-Jesus of Nazareth”

Whether this also applies to Joseph is not known, ’cause Joseph isn’t around. Maybe the dads back in the days of Jesus were a bit irresponsible? Or perhaps he was busy with some huge carpenter contract that his company recently landed? Who knows? In any case, one can safely say that Joseph has been rather neglected in relation to Jesus and Mary throughout history, at least when it comes to religious art.

The Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem is within walking distance, approx. 10 minutes North of Jaffa Road, located in the interesting, Jewish-Orthodox neighborhood Mea Shearim (see map), which I will probably write more about on a later occasion.

The lion at the church gate symbolizes the church community, where it is said that the Ethiopian Christians stems from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. King Solomon gave her a throne with two lions of Judah when she visited Jerusalem (if interested: look up 1 Kings, chapter 10, where this visit is mentioned).

the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem

the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem

The construction of the church was begun in 1893 by the Ethiopian emperor John I. He wanted his people to have a presence in modern Jerusalem, in addition to the church near the Holy Grave. The Ethiopian church was built  between 1874 and 1901 – in the middle of the courtyard stands a round church, modeled after the churches in Ethiopia, and around it is the residence of monks and nuns. The inscription on the gate, on Geez, sounds;

“The lion of Judah tribe has triumphed.” – Also in memory of King Menelek II of Ethiopia and the year 1889.

The Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem is surrounded by a cool, shady garden (which comes in handy on a hot Jerusalem summer). Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers, and all visitors to the church, are asked to remove their shoes when entering this church (it also applies to other Ethiopian churches).
It is easy to assume that the custom of removing your shoes is due to practical considerations, so that one doesn’t muck and tear out the carpet that covers the entire isle – but this is not the reason. The reason why you have to remove your shoes is to be found in the books, and it’s a sign of respect and a decree from the Lord. A command found in Exodus 3:5, in which Moses, while he sees the burning bush, is commanded to take off his shoes on holy ground (both quotes from

5 And he said, Draw not nigh Hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

I chose to quote the King James version because the language is more funny than in the newer versions. Here’s the same quote from the Contemporary English Version (CEV), so you can compare for yourself:

5God replied, ” Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals–the ground where you are standing is holy.

If they’ll make (when they’ll make) a new version again, it’ll probably sound something like this:

5And then God was like, “Man, whatcha doin? Get outta here. Remove those flip-flops: you’re in my space, dude.”

The round church has a domed structure, with the altar in the middle of the church’s center. It’s decorated with a lot of art, and the church smells of incense.

A believer reading the Bible in the Ethiopian Church

A believer reading the Bible in the Ethiopian Church

So, what color was really Jesus? Was he black or white, or maybe he was more like Michael Jackson? First black, then white? What we know for sure is that he was born and raised as a jew. The area and the era he was born in indicates that he was neither: not black and not caucasian. In the end I guess it doesn’t really matter: I assume that those who believe in Jesus, should keep their focus on the message and not the messenger…

Personally I find it interesting to see how the same person is being idolized and portrayed quite differently throughout the history and art. This is a feature that you’ll also find in other religious art around the world. And also: the Ethiopian Church is a nice place, definitely worth a visit if you should be in Jerusalem.

Watermark and photo effects: Photographers Toolkit 3 by: Wallstorm


3 thoughts on “Black-Jesus from Nazareth?

  1. Very informative & intriguing post.

    What is of equal interest & speculation in the area of Christian iconography is the Black Madonnas found in Europe. Did they originate with pre-Christian matriarchal Earth worship or/and they a blend of early Christian beliefs about Mary Magdaline ?

    It is curious how the European Church white-washed the embodiment of God to look more like them. By time the modern American version shows up you expect Baby Jesus to babble with a Southern/Texan drawl.

  2. There is a tendency to refer to Jesus as a Jew, when in fact the term would not be actually born for some 500 years after his death and according to scripture his resurrection. The terms used were either Hebrew or Israelite—–the mixing up of the term to give some the impression that its use as a common term was universal, much less it existed at all—should be met with condemnation.

    And, in our most basic thrust to identify Jesus, we get this wrong; surely, we question why some wish to push such a lie—if only to deny the reality of themselves and Jesus, as well.

  3. As long as 1) racism will exist between the world’s blacks and whites — apparently forever, 2) members of both racial groups will follow some form of Judeo-Christian religion, and 3) our species will never know the true physical appearance of Jesus — although numerous biologists and other scientists have constructed likely theories, there will always be factions that will illustrate Christ in ways that makes them feel as though their racial and ethnic identity is cherished. This is regardless of how narrow such perceptions are.

    As a side note — if I can explain it right, Rastafarianism is a Judeo-Christian inspired cult predominantly practiced by Jamaican Rastas (or Rastafari or Rastadarians) in which they recognize the late Haile Selassie as an incarnation of Jesus or God. This is because of the important role that Selassie played in establishing autonomy and a senses of identity and pride among Africans — especially his fellow Ethiopians, and because he was a decendant of the Solomon Dynasty. A monarchy in which members claim to be descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (which by itself is not enough to render Selassie as an incarnation of the Messiah or God but, if anything, just a descendant of Israeli and Sheban royalty).

    One of the little discussed theories — if I can explain this right also, that may, only may, connect blacks with biblical and historical Judeo-Christian belief is that many of the Judges, who long precede the time of Christ, could have been black slaves who walked out of Egypt with Moses and other Jews to help settle Canaan which eventually became Israel. Samson of Samson and Delilah (one of my favourite Biblical stories as a child), was the last of the Israeli Judges and may have truly existed in the 11th Century BC or older. Although rarely depicted, it is conceivable that Samson was a robust man with light or dark negroid features who wore his hair in long dreadlocks — not unlike today’s Rastafari. The Rastas adopted dreadlocks not from the Judges but from the Biblical Nazarites who vowed to God to never cut the locks of their hair except for when performing a ritual in a mikveh.

    While the Judges were some of ancient Israel’s highly revered military leaders, the Nazarites were the highly revered religious clerics devoted to God. Samson was not just a Judge but also a Nazarite; hence his long hair which, as bestowed by God, gave him superhuman strength. A strength he lost when he sacrificed his devotion to God for Delilah who betrayed him to her Philistines co-conspirators.

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