Where the Blonde Jesus Thing Came From

Aliens in This World often has interesting historical tidbits regarding the Church. Case in point:

From a thing that showed up in the very late Middle Ages, called the “Letter of Lentulus,” which was presented as being a report from a Roman official (with a known historical name) to Tiberius, about the appearance and habits of Jesus. The letter was taken as eyewitness testimony by many, and the letter in some versions described Jesus’ hair and beard as “fair” and his face as “the color of wheat.” (Although other versions described His hair and beard as “the color of a ripe hazelnut”, ie, those things on the Nutella jar that are light brown and not at all fair. They also described His complexion as “reddish,” which had the symbolic meaning of someone optimistic, energetic — and honest enough to be able to blush.) So it wasn’t racism, so much as popular scholarship and Biblical fanfic (aka “pseudoepigrapha”), that led to blonde Jesuses.

The appearance of blonde or white-haired Jesuses in previous Christian art had always represented the Jesus of the Book of Revelation, Apocalyptic Jesus, Whose hair represents Him as ancient and eternal, or transfigured in light, and Who is dressed for His office as the eternal High Priest. Also, scary and impressive. Either way, His Divinity becoming as visible as His Humanity, rather than how He looked in His life normally on earth.

Most Western art follows the tradition of a bearded, dark Jesus because that’s how the Mandylion of Edessa looked. Ditto the Shroud of Turin and the byssus veil thing. Pictures and relics should generally outweigh literary descriptions; but the Lentulus letter was popular in Germany, a fur piece over the mountains from the Shroud and the byssus veil.

Now I know who to blame. I really dislike blonde Jesus’ that seem to be so prevalent. Give me a Jewish looking Jesus any day. Now I don’t mind inculturation where religious images are adapted. If Mary can appear as Our Lady of Guadalupe, who am I to complain. So maybe blonde Jesus’ would not annoy me as much if I was to visit Scandinavia. Next on the list that annoys me about Crucifixes are sanitized Jesus’ that look like they must have carried around a bottle of Purell® before being Crucified. With this style Crucifix no wonder they asked Jesus to come off the cross since obviously he was totally uninjured. I tend more to Spanish realism regarding Crucifixes, but would be fine with ones that at least pointed to the suffering Jesus underwent. At the top of my list for anathemas of this type are blonde risen Christ’s that appear to be prancing around such as one parish I sometimes attend has.

Yet somehow I have managed to own a Crucifix that I really like except for the blonde hair. I have been tempted more than once to take a black marker to the hair.

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Jeffrey Miller (603 Posts)


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