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Writer's Room => Kidlit Genres => Topic started by: anonymous on July 23, 2010, 06:04 PM

Title: The Color of Jesus
Post by: anonymous on July 23, 2010, 06:04 PM
I have always worried about how I would handle my personal feelings versus the popular ideas of the world. This is especially thrown into conflict when dealing with religious issues. Specifically in this instance the color of Jesus, his disciples, angels and most if not all figures in the Bible. For me they are consistently drawn without regards for the history and nationality of the individuals. I didn't think I would have to worry about this since I have not gone out of my way to approach any religious institutions/publishers for work.

However, recently I have managed to get an Illustration job depicting Jesus through my agent. The description of Jesus in the assignment has been described as being "traditional". Which in my eyes means, white. For me this is in conflict with how I "traditionally" portray him in my personal drawings and illustrations.

How would any of you approach this issue? Has anyone else ever had something like this be a conflict for them within their professional work? What is the best way to bring it to the publishers attention or would you disregard you concerns and just complete the job as hired to?

Thanks! :bighelp
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Lill on July 23, 2010, 06:13 PM
I would get "traditional" defined by the client first before worrying too much ...

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: mlbrown on July 23, 2010, 06:22 PM
First let me state that I'm not an illustrator (yet!), but like Shakespeare said, "To thine own self be true . . . " I feel strongly that the "German" Jesus (light brown hair, blue eyes, blue sash) really does not reflect his nationality AT ALL. Unfortunately, it's what most of us (including publishers) grew up with, and are used to seeing.

Yes, definitely find out how they define "traditional." If it's different from what you're picturing you could show them your illustrations and say, "This is how I see Him?" What a tough job--to create the Creator. Best wishes to you!
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Aimee W. on July 23, 2010, 07:23 PM
My personal thoughts are that Jesus was Jewish and his look should reflect that, but definitely do as others have suggested and clarify what the person meant by traditional.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: RyanBruner on July 29, 2010, 12:29 PM
It is a pet peeve of mine that Jesus is often portrayed quite different than what he most likely looked like.  For example, in America, he is usually portrayed as white with blue eyes and light brown hair.  In recent years, however, I've noticed this trend is starting to wane, and he's being portrayed more like a middle-eastern Jew would have looked like in the day.

Of course, angels are more tricky.  It kind of depends on WHICH angels.  Angels were generally terrifying for most people, so they most definitely didn't look "normal".  However, there were times angels were intentionally meant to look human, such as the angels that visited Lot at Sodom and Gomorrah.  So I think there is more flexibility there.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: AnneN on July 29, 2010, 12:47 PM
For some reason this discussion makes me think of the end of Gerard Manley Hopkins's "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" (one of my favorite poems):

"....for Christ plays in ten thousand places,   
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his   
To the Father through the features of men’s faces."

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Liz Straw on July 29, 2010, 12:58 PM
We just had this discussion in Bible School this week.  I think most of the children we discussed this with based thier idea of what Jesus looked like on those pictures that they have always seen.  I was the one that pointed out his hair may have been almost black in color and that he probably would have had brown eyes.  I think many of them had never thought of this before, all they had ever seen were those traditional pictures where they do not protray a very Jewish looking man from the middle east.

When I showed them a picture of a crowd of people, (so that they would know what more than 5,000 people crowed togther looked like) the youngest in the group asked me if that was Jesus standing up and talking.  It was the back of President Obama. I had to explain that there were no camera's back when Jesus was alive and we do not have a picture of him.  No one really knows what he looked like.

Good luck. 
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: ruecole on July 29, 2010, 01:34 PM
And a beard. ;)

I don't think I could personally take a job where I was asked to depict Jesus in any way other than how he REALLY looked (which is definitely NOT white with blue eyes!  :faint).

I'd ask for more clarification from the publisher/author before proceeding.

Hope that helps!

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: anonymous on July 29, 2010, 01:48 PM
Thanks so much to everyone for their responses.

I did as was suggested and asked the publisher. When they say "traditional" they mean the recognizable image of Christ within our current culture. Which generally means white male, blue eyes, light brown hair.

I can understand the recognition issue. If I were to draw Jesus in accordance with what he most likely looked like, you run the risk of having children or parents not recognize him in the images and therefore aren't able to identify with him. This could translate to the parent not wanting to purchase the book or the children being uninterested in using or reading it. But I also recognize that not portraying him as accurately as possible does a disservice to the impact that can have on the Christian community and racial/ethnic prejudice therein.

What a dilema!

I'm just really glad they didn't ask me to draw Adam and Eve!!! (Knock on wood!!) That would have potentially been worse for me. (Same reasons as above.) Adam and Eve and Angels tend to be even more strongly slanted towards the blonde haired/blue eyed imagery. I am still seeing more imagery of multi-ethnic gendered angels in kids products. The Adam and Eve imagery as well as other Biblical characters still tends to be consistent with "tradition".
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: anonymous on July 29, 2010, 01:56 PM
Also, let me say that I am currently working on how I will render Jesus. I'm basically going to draw him in a way that I feel is closer to geographically accurate and see if the Publisher accepts it. For me the task is making him more ethnic but still recognizable within the context of being Jesus.

Their is only one color image which will be the cover, the rest of the imagery is black/white since it's a coloring book. When I do the cover I do intend to color his hair black, his skin olive or darker and his eyes dark brown.

Let me ask another question.

What impact if any do you think portraying Jesus more accurately would have had on past and current generations.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: RJ_Anderson on July 29, 2010, 02:14 PM
Do you think giving him the standard "Jesus outfit" (white underrobe with blue drapery), near-shoulder-length hair, and a beard would suffice as a nod to the "traditional Jesus"? I don't think the publishers would mind his appearance being geographically and racially accurate so long as readers can easily recognize who he is.

I am in total sympathy with you here, though. I think that the "Aryan" model of Jesus needs to go away, and that the promotion of art featuring Jesus as pale-skinned and blue-eyed has done a great deal to support common misperceptions of Christianity as a predominantly white, Western religion which encourages or at least tolerates racial and social discrimination.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: AnnH on July 29, 2010, 02:34 PM
In Methodist Sunday School and church where I grew up the picture of Jesus was always portrayed with brown hair, brown eyes and sort of tan complexion--and always with a glowing, golden aura.  So to me, that's typical. 
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: JFriday on July 29, 2010, 03:44 PM
I think the Aryan model of Jesus is from past generations. Most people today, children included, expect something realistic when you are talking about an historical figure. If you think of recent movies with Jesus in it, I think they use Jewish/mediterranean looking actors with long hair and beards.

As Ryan said, angels are trickier. Unless they were appearing as people, as to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, the first thing they usually had to say was "Don't be afraid." So when they appear as angelic beings, they must look pretty awesome, and not like us.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Stef on July 29, 2010, 04:33 PM
Actually, the Old Testament book of Isaiah chapter 53 has a prophecy regarding what Jesus would look like.  The translation is The Message:

 Isaiah 53
 1 Who believes what we've heard and seen? Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?
 2-6The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
   a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
   nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
   a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
   We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
   our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: AuntyBooks on July 29, 2010, 05:06 PM
haha, Stef, you beat me to it by two seconds. I was just typing Isaiah 53:2:

"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: hazelnut on July 29, 2010, 05:16 PM
I just logged onto and did a search for "Jesus coloring book" and saw a whole bunch of titles and most of the illustrations depict Jesus with dark hair and eyes: including Jesus Loves Me, This I Know Coloring Book and also its Spanish version; Jesus Helps Me Coloring Book; Jesus Forgives Me Coloring Book; The Best Gift: Forgiveness . . . ; The Easter Story Coloring Book.

There are lots of book covers for young children for you to check out. For example, The Story of Jesus, Board Book by Patricia Pingry shows Jesus and the children being darker than the white family shown, and the Nativity scene shown in the book is non-white. (You can click on additional views.)

So don't worry ... while Jesus still is shown with a long beard and flowing hair and the standard dress/robe and sandals, Jesus no longer looks blue-eyed and North European.

One of my favorite books to read my sons at Christmastime when they were young was Mary's First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr. This is recommended if you want to see a more authentic-looking Mary and Joseph. You might notice Wangerin now has a book with a black angel and family called Probity Jones and the Fear Not Angel. My point is that authors and illustrators have thankfully broken the old stereotyped image!
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: RJ_Anderson on July 30, 2010, 06:34 AM
"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."

Which is why, even though THE GOSPEL OF JOHN is my favorite life-of-Jesus movie ever and I think Henry Ian Cusick gave the best performance ever in the role (, I found that aspect of the film really distracting! (Still love it, though.)

(P.S. If you follow that URL to my review, there is a hilarious postscript where the not-yet-LOSTified and therefore not-yet-famous Cusick pops up unexpectedly in the comments. *facepalm*)
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: DanetteFromOrlando on July 30, 2010, 07:01 AM
I picture Jesus as dark haired, brown eyes, dress typical of the day. Years of carpentry work with Joseph would certainly have put some musculature on his arms, his legs, too--he walked everywhere. I've never thought those pictures of a slight Jesus were accurate.

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: AuntyBooks on July 30, 2010, 07:38 AM
You know, 'The Color of Jesus' would make a great pb title.

;) eab
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: valeriek on July 30, 2010, 08:43 AM
I find this discussion really interesting. I'm in my 30s and grew up in the midwest in a not particularly religious family. But my memory of images of Jesus has always had him with darker (though not always black) hair and olive skin. I remember it wasn't until I was in college and I worked at an event for the people who do Veggie Tales and the like that I saw a cartoon drawing of Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes and I remember at that time that I wasn't the only person who was surprised to see such an image.

As to what others have said, I think as long as he had long hair and a beard and was wearing robes, I think he would be recognizable. Particularly in a coloring book.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: RyanBruner on July 30, 2010, 09:07 AM
As to what others have said, I think as long as he had long hair and a beard and was wearing robes, I think he would be recognizable. Particularly in a coloring book.

It is doubtful Jesus had long hair.  Only a certain Jews maintained long hair (e.g., those who were under a Nazarite vow, such as Sampson).  Short hair was the custom in the day, and Jesus was not under a Nararite vow. In fact, Paul indicated that it would be shameful to have long hair. 
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: mlbrown on July 30, 2010, 10:02 AM
Ryan, I was about to point out the same thing. And if his hair were long (as in the Nazarite vow), it would have been really long.

It's interesting that the Bible gives fairly detailed descriptions of how some people looked, but we don't have much about Jesus' physical description, excepting the verses about how marred his visage would be and the Isaiah description already mentioned. Reminds me of that song, "Some Children See Him . . . "
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: valeriek on July 30, 2010, 10:04 AM
Hmm... maybe our definitions of "long" are different? I don't mean flowing down his back, but in all the images I've seen of Jesus he's always had what I considered long(ish) hair as in, not cut short (1" or so and not modern) all the way around.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Liz Straw on July 30, 2010, 12:42 PM
We also have to remember that Paul had a Lot of opinions.  He was a latecomer to Christianity and still a very strict follower of many of the Jewish law although he was a follower of the Way.  His view on hair may not necessarily reflect what Jesus looked like during his three years of ministry. 
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: DonnaE on July 30, 2010, 06:58 PM
I can't stand to see a fair skinned blue eyed protrayal of Jesus. UGH!

I once had a kid in Sunday School inform me that Jesus was AMERICAN, not Jewish. I was shocked. I also asked who told him that. He said, "My grandma." I corrected him and carefully informed him that he must have misunderstood his grandma.

We don't have a picture of Jesus, so we can only do our best in approximating what he might have looked like. I hope the illustrator comes close!

As for the long v. short hair - I found this interesting...
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: mlbrown on July 30, 2010, 08:54 PM
Very interesting link, Donna. I don't know that I've ever seen a rendering of Jesus, with a long beard and turban.
Does make you think!
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Stef on August 01, 2010, 09:04 PM
I've been mulling over this thread. These Bible verses (translation The Message) come to mind:

Luke 24: 13-16--That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

Luke 24: 28-31They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: "Stay and have supper with us. It's nearly evening; the day is done." So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.
 Luke 24: 32Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire (another translation says "did not our heart burn within us?) as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?"

John 21:4-- But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

Yes, these verses describe what happened after Jesus's resurrection. But I believe that we envision Jesus depending on who he is to us. The book of Isaiah said Jesus would be repulsive in appearance during his time on earth. How could he have been otherwise? If he were attractive, naturally people would have followed him.  Most of us gravitate to good-looking people--look what happens during the American Idol weed-out process. Love causes us to overlook appearance, though. Apparently Jesus looked very different after the resurrection; I like to think it was like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly.

Here's something to remember when we imagine what Jesus looks like:

Galatians 3: 28-- There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We used to sing a song in public grade school: "What color is God's skin? I said it's black, brown, it's yellow, it is red, it is white, every man's the same in the good Lord's sight."

I don't know if I've exceeded a word limit or what, but I had a heck of a time with the dialogue box flipping up and down when I reached the bottom and tried to continue typing, even after I turned off the smileys. But this meant a lot to me. I thought about it all night, so no flipping boxes are going to stop me. :-) I'd like to thank the Academy...
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: mlbrown on August 01, 2010, 09:23 PM
Stef, what you said got me thinking of how John saw Jesus in the book of Revelation. And the way He appeared when He was transfigured . . . of course, that's not what the artist who started this thread is being asked to illustrate, but we do have a pretty good idea what He looks like now. I had never thought about the Emmaus incident in that light.

Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: Stef on August 01, 2010, 09:38 PM
And I didn't make the transfiguration connection until you did. :-)  I know the artist wants to illustrate Jesus as He looked when He was on the earth, but that's what I mean--I think how He looked depended on who was looking and what they thought of Him. Little children loved Him, after all, so they must have seen Him with their hearts and not with critical eyes. I think it's perfectly natural for people from different cultures to imagine that Jesus looked the way they look, that they identify with Him so deeply that appearance doesn't matter.  It's very interesting that no one who wrote about Jesus described His physical characteristics. So my advice to anonymous is be true to yourself, and illustrate Jesus as He is to you.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: AnnH on August 05, 2010, 11:57 AM
In the current issue of Mad Magazine (Number 505, October 2010) Jesus is depicted as having brown hair and brown eyes, mustache and beard, halo aura.  Can't get much more official than Mad Magazine.   :moose
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: PiaSurligneur on November 01, 2010, 02:48 PM
Whew!  I just read this thread and was relieved to discover that "The Color of Jesus" wasn't the title of someone else's work.  I have a pb manuscript with this title that I've been subbing!  I won't go into the story details, but I just thought you all might get a laugh out of it.
Title: Re: The Color of Jesus
Post by: ellen-nibali on March 02, 2015, 08:04 AM
Just to confuse things:  The Ancient World was a mix of cultures and a lot of genes were floating around.  Yes, there are blond Jews, for instance.  Although I think we can safely assume that Jesus was not a blonde-haired blue-eyed Jew--because the Bible says his appearance was not particularly noteworthy--and that would have been, at least, unusual.  It's possible he had blue eyes, though.  It just wasn't worth mentioning. 
On the other hand, since he was outside in the sun speaking and traveling, what are the chances that he was pale?  He probably had at least medium-dark skin.