Was Jesus a ‘white’ man as shown in portraits or was he of African descent?

Although images of Jesus show ethnic characteristics similar to those of the culture in which they are created, the earliest images of Jesus, his mother and disciples, which appear in the catacombs of Rome — where early Essene Christians buried their dead — are portrayed so different from the now so widespread, known images of the Christ and the early Christians.

Contemporary evidence on Jesus’ life is scarce, and descriptions of his appearance even more so. Ethnography yields only educated guesses; anecdotal evidence cannot prove any assertion.

Nonetheless, we know that Galilee — a melting pot of Arab, Aramean, Berber, Roman, Greek, African, Persian and Indian cultures — had many Jews, whose ancestors had only been Jewish for about a century. Galilee witnessed multiple waves of immigrants as the area was the primary means of access for travellers seeking to reach Africa via the adjoining Levant.

As a Galilean (the world of Jesus was Galilean Judaism), what modern features of Middle Eastern and Semitic persons’ descent, could Jesus Christ have had? Let’s find out.

Essentially the “Semitic” features arose in the 4th millennia BC from intermarriage between Blacks in the ‘Holy Belt’ and Caucasian northern invaders. A wandering people, many Semites (such as the Gypsies, whose name means “Out of Egypt”) still display obvious features of their origins.

The Bible equates Ham (Africa) with Egypt (Ps. 78:51;105:23; 106:21, 22). By the time of Jesus, in fact, the identities of Ham and Israel are indistinguishable. In Acts 21:37-39, 22:2,3, Paul is mistaken for an Egyptian though he declares “I am Jew”.

Herodotus, a historian, wrote: “Egyptians, Colchians and Ethiopians have thick lips, broad nose, woolly hair and they are of burnt skin”.

The Bible also equates Ethiopians and Jews (Amos 9:7).

Tacitus, a historian of the Roman Empire, wrote that many in his time believed that Jews “were a race of Ethiopian origin.”

We know Jesus spent his formative years in exile with his parents just outside of Old Cairo, Egypt, where Mary learned knitting and Joseph carpentry. The same Egypt, where centuries earlier, as Hebrews they for 450 years forged their physical, cultural and religious identity.

The Bible calls Jesus “Lamb” of God, with “kinky hair” comparable to a lamb’s wool, “feet the colour of burnt brass” (Rev. 1:14,15) and a likeness resembling “jasper and sardine stone” (Rev. 4:3).

It also says: “And he [Jesus shall be called a Nazarene”. Now, a vow of the Nazarenes was to never cut, but to “let the locks of the hair of their heads grow.”

At one time, we find Galileans marvelling at his teaching asking: “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” (John 7:15).

This is a contradiction to those who believe that during his ‘lost’ years, Jesus travelled in Persia and Tibet, and Egypt or India where Essenes furthered their education.

While he was preparing for crucifixion, the King of Axum in Abyssinia asked Jesus to visit. The motive of the invitation remains a mystery. There is no record of Jesus’ travels beyond Judea.

Nor is there evidence that he planned a revolution against Rome.

Luke 23:26, says: “As they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus”. No reason is given for this act or the connection. Cyrenians were a black people.

In African Origins of Major Western Religions, Y. ben-Jochannan writes: “There were many Hebrew tribes that were of indigenous African origin, these African Jews were caught in a rebellion in Cyrene...during 115 CE. This rebellion also marked the beginning of a mass Jewish migration southward into Sudan of West Africa.”

Later, Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveller, reported of Jews he found scattered across North and West Africa.

It is no wonder Kersey Grave’s The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviours created a furore because of the author’s compelling discussion of Jesus’ African identity.

A plain looking man, “He [Jesus] had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53: 2).

The writer teaches physics at the University of Nairobi.

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